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Running The PMO With A Customer Focus

by William Laurent, William Laurent, Inc.Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Setting up a project management office (PMO) will be one of the most important missions your IT organization will undertake.  Yet while corporations spend inordinate amounts of time and money on sending increasing numbers of their technologists for project management training and PMI certification, they often fail to set up a viable PMO or governance framework under which their newly minted project managers can flourish.

The biggest problem facing IT-focused project management offices and PMO frameworks is that they are not customer focused enough—they don’t fully appreciate the business goals and mission statements of their customers.  Furthermore, the PMO often does a poor job of synthesizing the distinct core values of divergent customer groups in order to formulate a unified project delivery methodology, one that is centralized in temperament but agile enough to provide customized service dynamically.

While a centralized IT PMO structure is critical for the perpetual success of technical project governance, it must not be so rigid that it does not empower project managers at the lowest project levels.  After all, different information technology units will require different styles of project management.  Although various subdivisions of a company's global IT organization often leverage the same resources and budget, are ruled by a common chief information officer and share many of the same stakeholders, they will usually maintain a separate portfolio of individual projects with strategic objectives and deliverables.  Thus, they must police milestones and measure progress in ways that can be widely divergent from each other.

While top-level IT responsibilities will conform nicely to a global mission statement, lower levels of a technology organization’s stratum will have to bifurcate into more nimble units that can tightly couple and quickly respond to the specialized needs of unique customers.  Conversely, it is no longer enough for IT project managers to have an in-depth understanding of customers—customers must have a holistic understanding of the IT infrastructure and governance framework that supports them.  They need to be familiar with the capabilities and maturity levels of the technology units that fundamentally enable their business and enhance everyday productivity.

To assure an effective IT project management office, some basic but often overlooked principles apply:

  • The size and format of a PMO can vary greatly based on the size of the corporation and the nature of its business.  So it’s a good idea not to get stuck implementing an off-the-shelf governance structure or rely too heavily on one governance methodology or set of best practices such as COBIT or ITIL.
  • The PMO must always persevere to make sure that value is delivered and measured in continual waves during every project.  Often, if customers and business sponsors do not see a degree of value for cost  being delivered somewhat during early into or midway through a project plan, the plan may never reach inception.  At all levels of project management, it is not enough to simply deliver projects on schedule and under budget, the project manager must continually poll customers about their rates of satisfaction—not only about the quality of deliverables, but the entire communication and delivery process.   Monthly customer surveys are a great way to collect subjective measures and indicators of performance.  The project management office will often find that these subjective measures are often more valuable and meaningful than more objective KPIs.  Surveys offer the PMO a consistent touch point with customers that can anonymously convey dissatisfaction with IT services and delivery mechanisms.  Nothing actualizes and abets constructive criticism better than anonymity.
  • Excellent delivery mechanisms are best facilitated and invigorated via visibility and transparency, i.e., customers can view project plans and issues logs in real time; they are partners in logging project risks, issues, dependencies and scope changes into a shared project tracking portal.
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